Biggest NFL Draft Risers and Fallers After Week 8 of College Football

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2019

Biggest NFL Draft Risers and Fallers After Week 8 of College Football

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Welcome to the college football "Who's who?" edition of the NFL draft risers and fallers.

    Yes, the Week 8 slate featured some huge games, and many massive names had notable performances for either good or bad reasons. A big-name NFL quarterback prospect solidified himself as a strong top-tier pick while another had his second consecutive puzzling performance.

    It was a banner day for some of the sport's top-shelf running backs, and other players at the peak of their position had tough days.

    That's the way it goes in college football, where the margin for error is small. From one week to another, you can go from a hero to a goat (or the GOAT, for that matter).

    Across the nation, plenty of players saw their NFL stocks rise and plummet. While one contest is never enough to send a player spiraling, pro scouts are always watching, and games (especially those on big stages) speak for themselves.

    Let's take a look at some of the NFL draft risers and fallers from Week 8 of the college football calendar.

Riser: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

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    Justin Herbert can't rise much higher, can he?

    With prototypical size, a laser-rocket arm and an extremely high football IQ, the Oregon senior was close to a lock to be one of the first two or three quarterbacks taken in the 2019 draft before he came back to Eugene. 

    Games like Saturday's are the reason why, and he may wind up watching his stock soar until he becomes the top overall signal-caller. It's probably between him and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, and while the Crimson Tide quarterback left Saturday's game against Tennessee with an ankle injury, Herbert showed out.

    He had perhaps his best "big game" performance as a collegian in a 35-31 comeback win over Washington, and it was much more important than a win over the No. 25-ranked team in the nation should be. Why? This is simply the type of game Oregon hasn't won recently.

    Also, the Huskies were the Pac-12's best the past few years. Not anymore.

    Herbert threw a touchdown pass in his 35th consecutive game, the longest active streak in the FBS. He wound up completing 24 of 38 passes for 280 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also wasn't sacked in a truly pristine game.

    His final touchdown pass to Jaylon Redd with 5:10 left on the clock put the Ducks up for good. If he keeps elevating his program to new heights, that leadership is going to be difficult to ignore when it comes in addition to Herbert's exceptional physical attributes.

    Pros should take notes on Saturday's performance.

Faller: Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

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    At this point, you have to start wondering about Jake Fromm.

    You'd be wrong to think the Georgia signal-caller will tumble past the second round, but it's fair to question whether he's a first-round talent right now. Last weekend in a major upset loss to South Carolina, Fromm had one of his worst games as a Bulldog, throwing three interceptions.

    In Saturday's lackluster 21-0 win over a bad Kentucky team, a game in which both teams were scoreless at halftime, Fromm was even worse. He completed nine of 12 passes for a career-low 35 yards. 

    Yuck. That's just all-around bad, no matter the situation.

    It's going to rain sometimes in football games; that's inevitable, so it's no excuse. Kentucky hasn't blown the doors off teams defensively this season, either. 

    Last year, Fromm's breakout came with Jim Chaney as the offensive coordinator, and he left Athens when Tennessee showed him the money. With James Coley now at the helm of the offense, there are problems, and Fromm personifies them.

    He's thrown for 1,406 yards in seven games with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Yes, he's completed 70.7 percent of his passes, but he's created no explosive plays. The youth and inexperience in the receiving corps are really hamstringing UGA, and Fromm isn't making them much better.

    There are still plenty of opportunities (namely against Florida and Auburn) for the Bulldogs to get back on track, but Georgia doesn't look like a College Football Playoff team right now.

    Frankly, Fromm isn't playing like a first-round quarterback, either.

Riser(s): Elite Running Backs

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    If you like big games by running backs, Saturday was your day.

    With rainy and chillier conditions across much of the country, teams turned away from the air attack and toward the ground game. Some of the high-profile backs showed why they are the best runners in the nation.

    It's certainly a deep year for running backs in the NFL draft, and they stood out on Saturday. The best performance by far came from Boston College powerhouse running back A.J. Dillon, who was fed 34 times and churned out 223 yards and three touchdowns in a convincing win over North Carolina State.

    Though Wisconsin suffered college football's biggest loss of the season, top runner Jonathan Taylor had 28 carries for 132 yards and a score. The other three runners who likely round out the top NFL prospects (Clemson's Travis Etienne, Alabama's Najee Harris and Oklahoma State's Chuba Hubbard) were awesome, too.

    With quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hurt, Alabama pounded the ball more in a win over Tennessee, and Harris had 105 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns. Trevor Lawrence threw a pair of end-zone picks in a win over Louisville, but Etienne was the story, gaining 192 yards and a score on 14 carries and catching four passes for 35 yards.

    Then Hubbard, much like Taylor's showing in a loss, was major for the Cowboys despite Baylor prevailing. He had 171 yards on 32 carries and scored twice.

    Finally, in one of the most understated upsets of the day, one of the least-discussed star running backs in the nation carried Vanderbilt to a win over Missouri. That would be Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who had 96 rushing yards, 80 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns to carry the Commodores.

    What a day to be a standout running back.

Faller: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State

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    Tylan Wallace finished runner-up to Alabama's Jerry Jeudy in the Biletnikoff Award voting a year ago as the nation's top receiver. He's enjoying another stat-packing season this year.

    But since he's 6'0", 185 pounds and not blessed with blazing speed, there are other more athletic receivers who often steal the spotlight from the Oklahoma State junior. That's why he has to bring it every single game.

    His resume speaks for itself, but Saturday is not a day he'll boast about to his NFL suitors. The Cowboys struggled through the air in a home loss to Baylor, and the Bears stymied Wallace at every turn. He finished with six catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns.

    Those may not seem like awful numbers. But when you see Wallace has 45 catches for 772 yards and seven touchdowns this year, you realize just how much head coach Mike Gundy relies on him, and that didn't show up in a big loss.

    With guys like Jeudy and his Alabama teammates Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith, Clemson's Tee Higgins and Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb battling for positioning in the first and second rounds, Wallace has to let his production do the talking where his size and speed may fall short.

    Wallace is normally relentless getting open and catching passes, and he is truly one of the most enjoyable college football players to watch. It wasn't there for him or his teammates Saturday, and so his pro stock may take a hit, at least for a week.

    Look for him to rebound next week against Iowa State. He's just that kind of player.

Riser: Marlon Davidson, Edge, Auburn

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    Auburn's defensive line is loaded with NFL prospects. Tackle Derrick Brown is the centerpiece and a surefire first-round pick who is going to make some pro team happy for many years, and Nick Coe has plenty of potential on the next level, too.

    One guy who doesn't get enough hype is edge-rusher Marlon Davidson, who has blossomed into a playmaker for the SEC's top defense.

    With the Tigers getting off to a slow start but eventually coming around in an easy 51-10 win over Arkansas, there were plenty of highlights to go around. But it was Davidson's first impact play of the game that set the defensive tone when he had a strip-sack.

    He was unblockable the rest of the way, routinely finding his way into the backfield. The Razorbacks couldn't find any offensive lineman who could block him, and he finished with five tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry.

    It's that type of outing, one that shows a player can dominate every aspect of the game and fill up a stat sheet, that perks the eyes and ears of NFL scouts.

    At 6'3", 278 pounds, Davidson plays the edge in college, but he isn't the most fluid player. Still, he has the frame to add 20 pounds and be an athletic interior lineman or stay at the same weight and make an impact as the edge in a 3-4 defense.

    Davidson is going to be a long-term player in the NFL. If he keeps having games like Saturday's, he'll continue to surge, perhaps all the way up into the second round—or maybe even the tail end of the first.

Faller: Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona

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    What's wrong with Khalil Tate?

    Two years ago, the Arizona super sophomore was one of the most electrifying players in all of college football. Pac-12 defenses couldn't contain him as he flew all over the field, torching teams with his wheels and making plays on the fly with his arm.

    Was he an imperfect prospect? Sure. Did he need to fix his mechanics? Absolutely. But in the year-plus head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone have been in the desert, Tate has been irreparably broken along the way.

    Maybe he's just a poor fit for what the new Wildcats coaching regime wants to do, but Tate has made some horrendous decisions this year and looks so determined to make something happen that he ends up making things worse.

    Too many times this year, he's thrown into double coverage or stepped out of bounds several yards behind the line of scrimmage when trying to scramble away from pressure rather than just throw it away.

    In Saturday's 41-14 loss to USC at the Coliseum, Tate got pulled at halftime having completed just six of 10 passes for 47 yards while getting sacked a whopping six times. You know that internal clock quarterbacks are supposed to have? Tate doesn't.

    The Wildcats went with talented freshman Grant Gunnell, and they should probably give him an extended look moving forward. It's hard to believe how quickly Tate has fallen.

    He has enough skills that an NFL team will probably take a chance on him. But the gamble is looking more and more like a Day 3 risk.

Riser: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota

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    Sarah Stier/Associated Press

    When he was at Western Michigan, head coach P.J. Fleck deployed a 6'3", 209-pound wide receiver who lacked elite speed and wound up the NCAA's all-time receiving leader during his time with the Mustangs.

    That, of course, was Corey Davis, who went on to be the fifth overall pick of the Tennessee Titans in the 2017 NFL draft.

    Now that he's with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Fleck has a 6'2", 205-pound receiver who isn't talked about nearly enough, though he should be. That's Tyler Johnson, and the Minneapolis native surged in this offense a season ago with 78 catches for 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns.

    He's doing it again this year with 39 catches for 589 yards and six scores in the Golden Gophers' perfect 7-0 start. While it's not that hard to pick on Rutgers, Johnson sliced through the Scarlet Knights to the tune of six catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.

    The knock on him is a lack of elite speed, but somebody is going to take Johnson in the draft, perhaps as high as the top part of the second round. They'll be getting a smart, well-groomed receiver.

    Fleck does a lot of good things to get his receivers open, and while Minnesota isn't going to knock anybody's socks off with its offensive prowess, this is a sneaky-good team that is still unbeaten more than halfway through the season.

    Johnson is a weapon, and his game translates to the next level. Pro scouts will look at outings like Saturday's and see that.

Faller: A.J. Epenesa, Defensive End, Iowa

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    A.J. Epenesa is on everybody's board as a first-round draft pick, and there's little doubt the elite Iowa defensive end will be one of the first 32 players taken.

    But how far down the first round will he go?

    Whereas Epenesa was once thought of as a top-10 lock, his stock may be tumbling a bit with each game in which he doesn't produce what many pro scouts would like to see. Is he dealing with double teams all the time? He definitely is, and it's probably frustrating him a little bit.

    But on Saturday, he had a prime opportunity to pin his ears back and go after a Purdue team that likes to fling the ball all over the field.

    The result? Epenesa had zeroes across the board with just one pass deflection. He has only three sacks this year after 10.5 a season ago in a reverse role. Following the win over the Boilermakers, Epenesa said Saturday was about depth:

    "Last year, we had a good thing going with the eight-man rotation, and this year, we have guys who had zero game experience coming into the season, and it's just kind of like giving them a little bit each time. Today was a bigger day for those guys, but it's all about them proving themselves each week in practice and in the games that they can go out there and we can rotate and get that freshness coming like we had the past few seasons."

    There's nothing wrong with building depth, but Epenesa needs some splash plays from an individual standpoint. Given his skill set and size (6'6", 280 lbs), he's going to be a guy over whom scouts drool in the combine. His intelligence is exceptional, too, and no matter his role throughout his Hawkeyes career, he's accepted it.

    But this should be his season to shine, and in terms of statistics, it hasn't gone the way he might like.